A quick survey of headlines from early January 2022 reveals an alarming reality: many communities across the United States do not have enough nurses. And while nursing shortages existed in a pre-COVID world, as hospitals began to fill and as nursing staffs stretched thin, the issue of these employment issues quickly revealed themselves as a serious national problem.
While the pandemic rightfully has our collective attention, a nationwide nursing shortage is an even more significant issue. As the Baby Boomer generation quickly enters a phase of life marked by an increased need for medical care, this group that makes up more than a fifth of the U.S. population will add additional strain to an already threadbare medical system.
Also adding to nursing shortages is declining access to undergraduate and graduate-level nursing programs. According to a Fox Business report, over 80,000 qualified applicants failed to gain admission into nursing programs due to COVID-related strains on everything from faculty to clinical sites. Adding almost generational implications is the nearly 13,000 graduate school applicants who didn’t gain admission, limiting the number of graduates ready to take on faculty roles.
Nursing shortages come with their apparent downsides, but they also present career opportunities for individuals interested in pursuing a helping career bolstered by competitive wages and room for professional growth.
In the following guide, we take a look at the ten states with the highest nurse shortages. We also highlight the earning potential for nurses in each highlighted state. Continue reading to learn which states top the list.
Nurse Shortages in 2023
When compiling this list, we consulted several sources. For nursing workforce projections, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Supply and Demand Projections of the Nursing Workforce: 2014-2030 report was an invaluable resource. We also relied on information from the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Top 10 States with the Highest Nurse Shortages
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alaska is home to over 6,000 registered nursing jobs. And while Alaskan nurses are some of the highest-paid in the United States, by 2030 the state is projected to have a nursing employment deficit of over 5,000 jobs.
While taking on a nursing career in Alaska may not be for the faint of heart, the state’s supply of nurses falls well short of the demand—when coupled with relatively generous wages, a nursing career in Alaska suggests some interesting benefits, especially for the more adventurous medical professionals.
- Current Number of Nurses: 18,400
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 23,800
- Annual Mean Wage: $95,270
2. South Carolina
South Carolina plays home to nearly 46,000 registered nurses. 2030 projections by the Dept. of Health and Human Services reveal a supply of over 52,000 nurses while the demand will exceed 62,000. This nearly 17% employment deficit poses significant issues for a state already dealing with nursing shortages.
The COVID-19 pandemic stretched thin an already stressed medical system in South Carolina, and professionals in the state worry about the future quality of patient care if there isn’t a serious expansion of nursing recruitment. In addition to a future need for more nurses, Jeannette Andrews, the dean of the University of South Carolina School of Nursing, notes “an estimated 2,000 RN vacancies across the state.” According to Andrews, this is the most significant nursing shortage in the past ten years.
- Current Number of Nurses: 52,100
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 62,500
- Annual Mean Wage: $67,140
3. South Dakota
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that South Dakota has the highest concentration of nursing jobs of any state, that only reveals part of the picture. As one of the fastest-growing states due to the rapid expansion of high-paying energy jobs, South Dakota is projected to face a significant need for nurses by 2030. Census data reveals that since 2010, South Dakota's population has grown by nearly 9%.
While South Dakota’s growth is primarily due to high-paying energy jobs, the state is among the worst when it comes to compensating nurses. A South Dakota Public Broadcasting report notes that healthcare jobs account for nearly 20% of all job openings in the state.
- Current Number of Nurses: 11,700
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 13,600
- Annual Mean Wage: $60,960
As the most populous state, it's no surprise that California employs the highest number of nurses in the United States. Additionally, registered nurses in California earn more than nurses in any other state.
While California grew slightly slower than other states, census data shows that the population has grown 2.3 million since 2010. But over the next decade, as population numbers continue to grow, the state is projected to have an 11.5% deficit in nursing jobs—this translates to nearly 45,000 jobs. Additionally, according to a recent report, California is projected to have a nursing shortage through 2026 due to a significant rise in retiring nurses.
- Current Number of Nurses: 343,400
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 387,900
- Annual Mean Wage: $120,560
5. New Jersey
While New Jersey isn't home to the most nurses of any state, New Jersey nurses working in the New York metropolitan area are, not surprisingly, part of the largest network of registered nurses in the United States. And while the state's population grew to over 9 million, by 2030, it's projected that the state will have a deficit of over 11,000 nurses.
According to the Rutgers School of Nursing Dean Linda Flynn, even in the face of rising applications to the school’s nursing program, the increase fails to address the nursing shortage in a meaningful way.
- Current Number of Nurses: 90,800
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 102,200
- Annual Mean Wage: $85,720
Owing to its sizeable and growing population, the Lone Star State employs nearly 220,000 nurses, the second-most in the United States behind California. Texas is the fastest-growing state in the U.S., and as a result, it's one of the states with the most significant nurse shortages. By 2030 the HRSA projects that Texas will have a nursing deficit of nearly 16,000 jobs.
- Current Number of Nurses: 253,400
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 269,300
- Annual Mean Wage: $76,800
Over the past decade, Georgia expanded its population by just over one million people. And while the state isn’t projected to have a deficit of nursing jobs as extreme as others, the HRSA projects a shortage of 2,200 jobs by 2030.
Like other states, Georgia has faced COVID-related nursing shortages that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported have reached “crisis levels”. As a result, Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to boost efforts to address shortages with international nurses.
- Current Number of Nurses: 98,800
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 101,000
- Annual Mean Wage: $71,510
Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S., and while the state isn't projected to have a deficit of nurses by 2030, that doesn't mean that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't exhausted and depleted nurses working in the state. The HRSA projects a surplus of about 1,000 nursing jobs by 2030, but the pandemic has revealed how fragile even a well-staffed army of nurses truly is.
By the end of 2021, Tucson had nearly 600 job vacancies, and the state's health department began looking beyond its borders to recruit nurses to address staffing shortages.
- Current Number of Nurses: 99,900
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 98,700
- Annual Mean Wage: $80,380
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montana is currently home to just under 10,000 registered nurses. As the HRSA projects supply to just slightly overtake demand for nurses in the state, nurses can anticipate a relatively stable job market. But even though employment projections show a balanced relationship between job market supply and demand, that doesn't mean that Montana has been immune to the COVID-related strains on the industry.
Like other states, Minnesota has a low unemployment rate for RNs—but as hospitals and other healthcare operations run on fumes, the need for a more robust workforce becomes apparent. Additionally, a report notes that 18% of surveyed Montana nurses expect to retire in the next five years.
- Current Number of Nurses: 12,300
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 12,100
- Annual Mean Wage: $70,530
Massachusetts plays home to over 84,000 registered nurses. While their population doesn't compete with the likes of Texas or California, RNs in the Bay State ranks among the highest paid in the United States. Similar to the previous two states on this list, Massachusetts is projected to have a surplus of approximately 2,000 nurses by 2030.
But by the end of 2021, the commonwealth’s health department announced a 50% cutback on various nonessential, elective medical services due to the strain caused by COVID-related hospitalizations. And while federal projections point towards a surplus of nurses, those with feet on the ground worry that shifting demographics, compensation issues, and widespread retirements might deplete the state’s nursing workforce.
- Current Number of Nurses: 91,300
- Total Number of Nurses Needed: 89,300
- Annual Mean Wage: $96,250
States With Nursing Shortages FAQs
Which states have the most significant nurse shortages?
- Alaska, South Carolina, and South Dakota face the most serious nursing shortages. That said, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed to almost every state how fragile their nursing workforce is when combatting widespread healthcare issues. And while staffing issues are an immediate problem, they can offer up various professional opportunities for nurses willing to make a move.
What state pays registered nurses the most?
- California has a serious lead when it comes to compensation. With an average RN salary that exceeds $120,000, the nearest competitor is Hawaii, at about $105,000 in annual pay. As California is one of the states topping our list of professional shortages, the state's high wages may be tempting for nurses interested in tapping into a competitive job market.
Is nursing a good career?
- Like other helping careers, nurses utilize specialized knowledge to provide competent and compassionate healthcare services. For individuals interested in an active, hands-on environment, nursing can be a stable and rewarding career.
How do I become a nurse?
- Unlike other careers that require a four-year degree, students interested in a nursing career can complete their associate degree in nursing (AND) in about two years. From there, working nurses commonly complete a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree to boost career options and increase compensation.
Which state employs the most nurses?
- California is, by far, the largest employer of nurses in the United States, with more than 300,000 registered nurses. Texas is home to nearly 220,000 RNs and Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania fill out the top five states that employ registered nurses.